Republicans on the House Homeland Security Committee are looking to turn up the heat on DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas in the wake of bombshell testimony from Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz that the chairman of the committee described as “earth-shattering.”
Ortiz had been the main witness at the committee’s field hearing in McAllen, Texas, on Wednesday and had bucked the administration on a number of issues. Ortiz told lawmakers that he disagreed with President Biden’s call to stop wall construction, said there were policies in place that were holding agents back from doing their job, and backed agents who had falsely been accused of whipping Haitian migrants.
But the takeaway from lawmakers was Ortiz’s statement that the U.S. does not have operational control of the border – a statement that contradicted what Mayorkas told lawmakers last year – and that multiple sectors were overwhelmed by the historic migrant flows being encountered.
“In five of those nine southwest border sectors, we have seen an increase in flow and that has caused a considerable strain on our resources and really has forced the Border Patrol to move so agents and even migrants to some of the other areas,” he said in response to a question about the border being secure.
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In an interview with Fox News Digital on Thursday, Chairman Mark Green described those takeaways as “huge statements.”
“I knew that he was the kind of guy who would shoot straight and be honest. And we prepared, so we did our homework, and we were prepared. I think you put the two together, and you got what we got, which is some pretty earth-shattering stuff,” he said.
With the border crisis still ongoing and with the end to Title 42 expulsions less than two months away, Green told Fox that his committee is eyeing additional testimony after Wednesday’s hearing. Mayorkas is likely to be one of those the committee wants to provide testimony. Green said the committee will have “tons of questions” for the DHS chief.
“I think we want to talk to all the sector chiefs, but certainly the five that are struggling with the overflow right now and get their perspectives,” he said. “And then at some point, Secretary Mayorkas is going to have to come and answer the question – did he lie to Congress, or is he just ignorant about the definition in the code on what defines operational security?”
Rep. August Pfluger, R-Texas, who also questioned Ortiz at the hearing, praised the Chief for how he handled what Republicans acknowledged was a difficult situation for the official.
“Chief Ortiz is to be commended for walking a fine line, as one of my other colleagues said, of being respectful of the political hierarchy, but also telling the truth and saying enough is enough,” he said.
“It was about time,” he said. “I’m grateful that somebody had the courage to tell the truth about that.”
Pfluger similarly believed that one of the next steps was to hear from Mayorkas.
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“I think that we should move quickly, with a sense of urgency to have Secretary Mayorkas testify in front of Congress,” he said. “We have heard from the lead officer in charge of the security of our border that it’s not secure. And now the same question needs to be posed to Secretary Mayorkas. Will he disagree with the lead officer in charge of border security?”
The Biden administration has been pushing back against the narrative from Republicans that seeks to blame the administration’s policies for the crisis. DHS said in a statement Wednesday that the hearing “highlights the vital work the Department of Homeland Security does every day to enforce our laws, secure our border, and combat cartels and smugglers” and pointed to testimony from Ortiz and other witnesses that showed “new programs, technology, and investments are making a real impact.”
The administration has pointed to recent drops in numbers through January and February as signs that recent border measures – including expanded Title 42 expulsions and a humanitarian parole program that allows 30,000 migrants from four countries to fly in each month – are working.
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“Despite inheriting a dismantled immigration system and facing unprecedented migration that is affecting nations throughout the Western Hemisphere, this administration has surged resources to the border, reducing the number of encounters between ports of entry, disrupting more smuggling operations than ever before, and interdicting more drugs in the last two years than had been stopped in the five years prior,” a spokesperson said.
“The Department welcomes input from Congress, and looks forward to working with members on legislative solutions for our broken immigration system, which Congress has not reformed for more than 40 years.”
Pfluger said he wants Mayorkas to tell Congress how the administration intends to expand on the policies it believes have led to a recent drop in border numbers.
“We need Secretary Mayorkas in front of the committee explaining the drop-off in January, the policies that changed in January and what he’s going to do to further help that situation,” he said, arguing that an increase in consequences for illegal entry is what will make the difference.
“I think one of the main things if you really listened to the testimony yesterday, the consequence of having repatriation flights, of having deportation, the political will to actually deport people and, at least for a portion of the migrants that are coming here illegally, stop the catch and release policy that Biden has used seem to have had an effect,” he said.
The White House had taken aim at Republican lawmakers ahead of the hearing, renewing its arguments that Republicans have failed to back various border funding requests and come to the table on immigration reform.
“The repeated efforts by House Republicans to threaten or vote against border funding reveal they are more interested in using this issue to lob debunked political attacks than actually working with the President on bipartisan solutions to strengthen our immigration system and border security,” White House spokesman Ian Sams said ahead of the hearing.
Green rejected those claims, arguing that in multiple instances the funding was a small part of significantly larger spending packages and that the funding largely went toward processing and transportation of migrants rather than actual security.
He said in at least one instance the spending request “was a part of this huge package that was going to further bankrupt the country” and exacerbate already high inflation.
“It’s insane that they would suggest that us not voting for that bill says we don’t want to support border security,” he said.
As for immigration reform, he said that border security must be tackled first.
“If you fix immigration and don’t fix security at the border…then you get even more people coming to the United States. And we’re already at 6 or 7 million people under this president’s first two years. It’s going to be even double that for his next two. At some point, you can only get so many guests inside your house. You can invite all the people you want but at some point, you can’t put another person in the house, and we’re getting there.”
Green said he is open to immigration fixes “because we do have to have workers, we do have to have a process legally” but he also questioned whether reformed laws would even be followed by those in the country illegally.
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“What’s to say that we would pass something legally, and they’d actually live by it, because the laws that were passed before they’re not even living by. They’re violating the law. So, okay, I go and I fix immigration – what’s to say they’re going to actually adhere to it? They’re not now.”
Republicans have said they intend to introduce and pass legislation that they believe would help fix the crisis at the border, and Green said with Title 42’s expiration looming on May 11, there is a sense of urgency.
“We’re going to be deluged. We’re already deluged. But we get Title 42 gone and the floodgates open. So we have to get this fixed and hopefully what we pass in the House will be passed in the Senate and go to the president,” he said. “But if not, then we’ll start doing, you know, small pieces to get something done. But it’s ridiculous to think that Title 42 going away isn’t going to result in a massive, just massive increase.”
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